A friend sent me a question on November 2nd about praying for the dead and why we believe in Purgatory which is ‘not found’ in the Bible. I decided to pick up this reflection I had previously made on the subject for him and many who still have some doubts or desire to know. It may not be able to answer all the questions but it will be enough for a heart seeking understanding.

To begin with, we pray for the dead because of our faith in the resurrection of the dead. In 2 Macc 12:43-45, the scripture recorded an account of how Judas, a leader of Israel made a collection of money from the people and sent that to Jerusalem so that it may be used to offer sacrifices for the sins of some fallen soldiers. This was made with the hope that the persistent prayers of the righteous have great powers (cf. Jam 4:16-18). As St. Paul encourages us, this hope does not disappoint us (Rom 5:5).

By the way, the reason we pray for the dead has close links to the teaching on Purgatory. “In Catholic theology, Purgatory is an intermediate state after physical death in which some of those ultimately destined for heaven must first ‘undergo purification, so as to achieve the holiness necessary to enter the joy of heaven’.” Let us note from the onset that purgatory is an article of faith and it would become meaningless when it is removed from the realm of faith and discussed only with reason. That is why we say, FOR THOSE WITHOUT FAITH, NO EXPLANATION IS POSSIBLE; FOR THOSE WITH FAITH, NO EXPLANATION IS NEEDED.

Remember that faith has to do with things hoped for and the existence of things that are not seen (cf. Heb 11:1).

Somebody asks, Is it in the Bible? and I replied, The food you eat, is it in the Bible? What of the shoe you wear, the phone you use, the car/bike you use? Television, radio and internet are not in the Bible. Can we not throw them away? Ehen! The Bible did not tell us to bury the dead with casket, why not go the way of the Muslims?

The word “Purgatory” is not found in the Bible. But the Gospel of course bears witness to the fact that there are so many things Jesus did which were not written down (John 21:25) but the little that was written down are to lead us to believe in the name of Jesus in order to have life (John 20:30, 31).

Another person insisted that if purgatory exists, Jesus would have told us about it. Hmmmm! Jesus himself said, I still have many things to say to you, but they will be too much for you to bear now. However, when the Spirit of truth comes, he will lead you to the complete truth, since he will not be speaking on his own accord, but will say only what he has been told and he will reveal to you the things to come (John 16:12-13).

Aside all those, purgatory is a way of speaking about the embrace of justice and mercy in God. The God who is merciful is also a God of justice. And so, in talking about purgatory, I normally begin with Rev 21:27 which says that nothing unclean will ever enter the kingdom of God. In that case, trouble looms for us. Why? You will soon find out.

In another place, it is said, the upright falls seven times, he gets up again (Prov 24:16). Let us remember that biblical numbers are not to be taken literally. So, if we take the number 7 in the context of its biblical interpretation wholeness we can take that to mean that the upright falls always but rises again. But what if that righteous dies before he the opportunity to rise?

Moreover, Eccl 7:20 says, No one on earth is sufficiently upright to do good without ever sinning.
2 Chron 6:36 says that there is no one who does not sin.
1 John 1:8 says, If we say, we have no sin, we are deceiving ourselves and truth has no place in us.
In Rom 3:10, St. Paul, quoting Psalm 14:1, says, Nobody is just, not even one. And in Rom 3:23, he says that, All have sinned and all have fallen short of the glory of God.

With all the above references, I ask this question, What is the essence of Jesus death on the cross if we all are going to perish in hell fire on account of all our sins? Dont forget that in God, justice and mercy have embraced (cf. Ps 85:10).

Before we continue, note what the evangelist John implies in 1 John 5:16-17, If you see your brother committing a sin which does not lead to death, pray for him, and God will give life to your brother provided that it is not a sin that leads to deathEvery wrongdoing is sin, but NOT ALL SIN LEADS TO DEATH. That is why the Church makes a classification of sins into mortal the sins that kill a soul and venial the sins that do not kill a soul but can lead to mortal sin.

By killing a soul here, we mean casting a soul into hell. That is what call the real death. What we normally refer to as death literally is theologically conceived as a transition.

Now, since not all sins can kill the soul and nothing unclean would enter the Kingdom of God, where would the souls that committed venial sins that do not kill the soul go to after the physical death? That is common sense! Is it not?

Remember the psalmist said, If you, O Lord, should mark our guilt, Lord, who would survive? (Ps 130:3).

Apart from all those, there is a pericope in the Gospel of Matthew which gives us a good clue of purgatory. Jesus did not call it the story of purgatory but then it does fit very well into the doctrine of purgatory. That is Matt 18:23-35 The Parable of the Unforgiving Servant.

Make no mistake about it! The story centers on Jesus teaching about the kingdom of heaven. The king was in the kingdom and he forgave the servant, giving him an opportunity to remain in the kings presence in the kingdom. But the servant LEFT THE PRESENCE OF THE KING (Matt 18:28) and failed to replicate that mercy that was shown to him. The penalty was that he would be tortured until he paid his debt in full (Matt 18:34). Jesus then added, So will my heavenly Father do with you unless each of you sincerely forgives his brother from his heart (Matt 18:35). Somebody might just tell me that Jesus was simply teaching about forgiveness. O yes! But in what context? In relation to the kingdom of God.

Finally, we shall make a final reference to Luke 12:47-48, just to end, not because we are out of facts, but because the facts are so many and we cannot continue ad infinitum. It says, The servant who knew his masters will but did not get ready to do what his master wanted, will be punished with severe beatings; but the one who did what deserved punishment without knowing it shall be beaten lightly. Does this mean that we have different compartments in hell one side in which people are punished greatly and another thing that in which lesser punishment is given?

Never forget: purgatory is a way of speaking about the embrace of justice and mercy in God. Removed from the realm of faith and discussed only with reason, it becomes meaningless. That is why we say, FOR THOSE WITHOUT FAITH, NO EXPLANATION IS POSSIBLE; FOR THOSE WITH FAITH, NO EXPLANATION IS NEEDED.

It is well with you.

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5 Responses

  1. Anonymous says:

    Amen. The love of God endures forever. He gives to each and every one of us the measure we deserve. The measure you are given, is the measure expected of you. He can never condemn the righteous with the wicked . Thanks padre for this wonderful lecture, it is indeed meaningful to the faithful.

  2. Thank you Fr John Bosco for tis enlightenment.But I would like to take you back to the biblical reference of James 4:16-18. Could you clarify it better as I didn’t get the reference in the passage. Thank you

    • Fr. JohnBosco Ezeonwumelu says:

      That passage is talking about the effectiveness of intercession. We can pray for others and God acts on our petition insofar as it is coming from a righteous heart. Sorry for this delayed reply. I have been very busy. Hope I attended to your question. If not, let me know please

  3. Chukwudi obasi says:

    The foundation of GOD standeth sure, even with your refrences, it does not guarantee that purgatory is in existance, the rich man and lazarus experience heaven and hell, two things goes together life and death, light and darkness if there is purgatory JESUS would have said so PAUL and peter and others would have say so, GOD IS NOT AN author of confusion,

    • Fr. JohnBosco Ezeonwumelu says:

      Good response from a heart which I know seek to be in heaven. Keep up with the struggle and I pray you make it.

      You don’t have to believe in purgatory if you don’t want to. It is a matter of faith. And mind you, things of faith are revealed by God. Not everyone understands the revelation of God. Some people will always choose not to believe. It is a free world.

      But please, try not to play God. It doesn’t help anybody’s faith. I’m a Catholic Priest. I have a diploma in Spirituality, a Bachelor of Arts Degree in both Philosophy and Theology. But, I’m still learning. I still have a lot to learn. Sometimes I learn from little in my parish.

      Humility is the first criterion for following God.

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